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Military dad makes unexpected visit to his kids while at school

For one Searcy dad in the United States military, he's back home and had a surprise waiting for his children.

SEARCY, Ark. — The weekend is over and students went back to school at Southwest Middle School in Searcy.

For 6th grader Emma Russell and 3rd grader Gage Russell, there was a surprise waiting for them and no, it wasn't a pop quiz.

Their father, Thomas Russell is a Petty Officer First Class in the United States Navy.

During his seven month deployment, Russell, stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi spent six months in Ukraine for a project.

"For about six months. We were building a facility out there and we come back [because] our project was on hold," Russell said.

That project, he said, was put on hold because of asbestos safety concerns and also because of the crisis in Ukraine. 

"It was just coincidental that we came out at a good time," Russell said.

He added that his number one priority in life is his family.

Now that he is back in Arkansas, he said he couldn't wait any longer for his two kids to get home from school.

He and his wife, Kim Russell, decided to make one extra stop before going home.

He stopped by his son's and daughter's classes to surprise them.

Russell's entrance was met with excitement from his children and applause inside his daughter Emma's 6th grade class.

"Just seeing that surprise on their face is priceless," Russell described to us.

He told us the latest deployment is actually his fifth.

Kim, his wife, said their kids are accustomed to surprises.

"I think one time he popped out of a man size box," Kim said.

She said she strives to make each time more special than the last.

For Monday's unexpected visit, she started planning it nearly two months ago.

She wasn't sure if it would be possible because, like many things, the pandemic made planning more difficult.

"I was worried about the COVID restrictions. I didn't know if we would even be allowed to come into the classroom," said Kim Russell.

With the help of school staff, her dream came true.

Monday's unexpected visit for the Russell kids is something Emma say will be etched on their minds.

"I'm just really happy he is here! I am so happy," Emma told us as she hugged her dad.

Thomas will be home for a week, so during his time, he plans to spend time bowling, skating and playing with the family's dog.

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